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St. Petersburg has a lot at stake in a peaceful BayWalk

Published Aug. 24, 2005

A tale of two cities: Tale A is about the delightful morning market on St. Petersburg's Central Avenue. Tale B is about the brawl at nearby BayWalk. These are the best of times, these are the worst of times.

As I sipped my Saturday Morning Market coffee, I listened to the mellow songs of Simon and Garfunkel and the guitars of a professional musician and Mayor Rick Baker. The mayor was in good humor, and the market crowd was appreciative. I kept thinking: How could any city could top this? A German national shared my table and observed admiringly: "Only in America." I agreed.

I was unaware of the BayWalk thugs the night before, and in retrospect, I thought the mayor seemed a little subdued. Given the BayWalk donnybrook, I suspect he had a few things on his mind.

Eight years ago, I owned a condo across the street from what is now Baywalk, which was then a parking lot. My wife and I would walk across it on our way to the Pier. We dreamed about a day when the downtown would have the kind of attractions that BayWalk now offers. Be careful what you wish for.

Trust that the mayor, city policy and public safety officials, parents, teachers and clergymen have the will and intellect to address the menacing underclass values on display at BayWalk. Stop the few thugs who find comfort in mob scenes. We are all stakeholders, and there's a lot at stake.

Gary Harrington, St. Petersburg

"Get Down Town' not linked to brawl

Re: Brawl a black eye for BayWalk, Jan. 9.

The headline for the story regarding the incident at St. Petersburg's BayWalk this past weekend probably helped the Times to sell newspapers. Unfortunately, the story that followed became a rehash about BayWalk becoming a "victim of its own success," and then it unfairly lumped our event into the story with two references.

The Breakfast Optimist Club is the promoter of the concert series "Get Down Town" or "First Friday" as it is known to the thousands of persons who attend our free monthly event. We take exception to the comments suggesting that problems at BayWalk, especially as they relate to teens (or their relatives) fighting, have anything to do with our event.

While teens are certainly not denied access to our concert series, they rarely ever attend it, since it draws an older, jazz-oriented crowd. Our event would not be a contributing factor to their decision to gather at BayWalk.

The real story of "Get Down Town" is that there is rarely trouble of any type. Just citizens supporting the event, which serves as a fundraiser (via concession sales) to provide our civic organization funds to give local teachers badly needed school supplies. This program is more than 20 years old, and our club serves close to 20 public schools in part due to the success of "Get Down Town."

"Get Down Town" starts early and ends early. The music ends promptly at 10 p.m. and the street is usually cleared and clean within 30 minutes or so. For the most part, our guests are orderly and observe the rules. Please do not let the proximity of our event cause it to get arbitrarily associated with the teen fighting event you reported on.

John Cannon, past president and organizer, "Get Down

Town," the Breakfast Optimist Club of St. Petersburg

Parents, supervise your children

Re: Brawl a black eye for BayWalk.

Why do adults just drop off their kids at BayWalk and let them run? What is going on with parents these days? Are they afraid to parent?

Young children have no business at BayWalk or at the malls without supervision. There should not be any child under 16 at BayWalk unsupervised after 6 p.m. Violators who then cause trouble should go to a juvenile facility where their parents would have to pick them up. Parents then would get fined for child neglect.

This might be strong punishment, but perhaps parents will get the message.

Terry Baumgardt, St. Petersburg

A show of force by police is needed

The major problems at BayWalk will not be resolved unless a major effort is made by the police and the management of BayWalk to "take on" the troublemakers.

One of the City Council members stated that the area needs a "teen" attraction. What the council member may not realize is that BayWalk already has a "teen" attraction.

As a retired police officer, I can state that talk is cheap in solving this problem. Only a police show of force and the backing of citizens can clean up a bunch of "thugs" who have taken over BayWalk.

Van E. Vergetis, Holiday

Young people need places to gather

Young people all over the country have no place to congregate. Each of our local communities in the St. Petersburg area have wonderful recreation centers. Why can't these facilities be opened on the weekends and have planned programs for the youth: dances, shows, competitive games _ weekend camp?

It will take some funding, but there are many volunteers available, which would lower the cost. Come on parents, you need to help, too! Let your voices be heard that you want a safe, fun destination for your children, near home.

Beverly Mitlin, St. Petersburg

Thugs roaming our parks

Re: Brawl a black eye for BayWalk.

The article notes that there have been many complaints from those who live downtown, as I do, about the groups of teens gathering in the city parks. Every Friday evening, when I'm out walking my dog, South Straub Park, and often the north side of the Museum of Fine Arts property as well, has groups of teens gathered. This past Friday night there were upward of 50 such youths gathered at the fountain (yes I did a head count), and groups of two and three were converging upon that gathering from three directions. Male and female, they marched across the park. Obscenities were being screamed out. It appeared to me that trouble was brewing. On one occasion in the past, I observed two young men rush up to an elderly couple and scream at them. Intimidation by these teens is frequent. This is routine!

On one occasion my wife and I informed a police officer that marijuana was being smoked in Vinoy Park, and he broke into a hearty laugh. City Council member Virginia Littrell's suggestion that a teen center might remedy the situation reflects the city's approach to all potential violence: accommodation and denial. The teen center as a reward for criminal behavior?

Yes, Virginia, there are thugs roaming our beautiful parks, and they make life less desirable. The parents, the police and the city government are responsible for resolving this issue in a firm and realistic manner.

Charles Larsen, St. Petersburg

A musical repellent

If the management of BayWalk would start playing Mantovani-type music on the loudspeakers around 10 p.m., most of the teenagers would disburse immediately and go somewhere else.

Robert H. Williamson Jr., St. Petersburg